Is it just us, or do you watch some movies over and over again just to stare at the amazing clothes? The right costumes can completely bring a movie to life. There is so much behind the scenes work that goes into those costumes that we don’t always get to see. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to put together costumes for a movie keep reading!
We were lucky enough to interview Jenny Beaven and ask her about her career as a costume designer. Beaven has worked on countless movies from Sherlock Holmes to Mad Max: Fury Road. She has been nominated for an Academy Award ten times and won not once, but twice! More recently, she designed the costumes for Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. So, what's it like to design costumes for Disney? We asked all the questions because our Disney-obsessed selves were super curious.
Her Campus (HC): What was your proudest or most surreal moment in your career?
Jenny Beaven (JB): This sounds a bit obvious, but winning an Oscar for Mad Max, and then once I was rudely called "The Laura Ashley School of Filmmaking." Don't know if you know who Laura Ashley is, but she did very floral flocks in the 1960s and 1970s, very Lady Di (Princess Diana) with big sleeves and very, very feminine and it was definitely not a compliment, so that was quite nicely surreal.
HC: What or who do you turn to for design inspiration and why?
JB: It is research and very, very much story-based. I really go into the story of each character and the means of the inspiration will come totally at that stage around that. For instance when I did Alexander, I found the most amazing inspiration in the vases in the British Museum where they kind of drew everyday life and you can see people even getting dressed, you saw women spinning, you saw people collecting water, you saw soldiers helping each other get into their armor, and you won’t get that from anything other than real source. I looked particularly at Victorian illustrators of fairy tales, Cary Clark I think is one. There are some marvelous Victorian illustrators of fairy tales and I just thought that was a really good way to go. So it's really horses for courses. Sometimes it comes straight out of my head though.
HC: What are the essential skills you recommend any designer should have in the industry?
JB: I would recommend they did a good course first. I think these days there are some excellent courses in costume design. I would suggest they do them to learn to sew and to cut. I think it's very important to understand what you CAN do so you don't ask a maker to make something that's completely impossible... I'm not a great maker, but I can certainly do it if push comes to shove. I think it's really good to have a lot of other skills like breaking down and knowing how to age and distress a costume realistically and I think it's really good to look at loads of films in very different ways to see what does work as storytelling. And then I think it's really important to remember you are not a fashion designer, and it shouldn't ever be about you. It should always be about the story and the film. And then I think have, oh my goodness, just have the luck to meet someone and become their assistant and do everything from making the best tea to being good at accounts.
HC: What advice would you give a 20-something woman who wants to pursue a career in the fashion and design industry?
JB: What you have to understand is that I started such a long time ago, it was very different. I was just terribly lucky enough to meet James Ivory and Ismail Merchant at a very early age and that was through friends and people I grew up with, so that was just a stroke of sheer luck and then they took me under their wing and I became part of their family, the Merchant-Ivory family. And I guess that sort of can happen today, you do find that people are very loyal to designers or their teams. I honestly think you have to have tremendous stamina to do it. You have to have a fairly balanced mental state of health because you will be rocked, and there's no point in going into the film industry unless you're fairly stable, I would say you've got to be strong and stable because it is mad, it's absolutely mad out there. It's enormous fun and you'll honestly have the best time ever mixed with some fairly grim moments, to be honest.
It takes a lot of hard work and tenacity, but we can imagine how amazing Beaven must feel seeing her designs on the big screen! For any aspiring costume designers out there, take a cue from Beaven to stay strong and keep working hard and someday it will all pay off.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is now available on Digital and Blu-ray.